On Tuesday, Florida had 11,515 people in hospital with COVID-19. A Delta-powered wave that started building there in June has now reached higher than the heights of the state’s January third wave. Hospitalizations are up sixfold in six weeks, and are on the verge of topping last summer’s summit.
Several other U.S. states are in the same boat, with infections high and climbing, and the hospital curve a couple of weeks behind.
As for deaths, Florida’s toll is up fourfold over four weeks, according to New York Times data – from an average of 15 a day to 58. That’s “only” a third of the death rate at the peak of the past two waves. But if deaths rise fourfold over the next four weeks, as they did over the past four … well, you get the math.
Canada’s pandemic situation is, at this moment, much better than that of the Americans. Our vaccination rates are higher. Our COVID-19 cases are lower. Our ICUs have emptied out. Our economy is largely reopened, or reopening.
But instead of doing everything we can to maintain this happy state of affairs – to build on it, and make it permanent – we’re starting to do things likely to goose a fourth wave.
Canada knows how to avoid, or at the least minimize, the likelihood of bad outcomes this fall. A year and a half of experience, and evidence from the U.S. and around the world, strongly suggests what needs to be done.
Set higher vaccination targets: It’s clear that the earlier, pre-Delta targets, with provinces aiming to vaccinate between 70 to 80 per cent of residents 12 years of age and older, are too low.
Having mostly hit those targets, provincial and federal leaders have been loath to raise them. Alberta and Saskatchewan ditched all public-health restrictions once they hit a 70 per cent first-shot rate, effectively declaring victory. Quebec had a target of 80 per cent overall, including 75 per cent in all age groups; in July, the provincial health minister acknowledged that higher would be better, but declined to set a new goal.
The top federal public-health official, Dr. Theresa Tam, last week strongly hinted that the long-standing vaccination targets could be too low for Delta. She urged Canadians to “shoot for the stars,” but wouldn’t give a number to shoot for.
Vaccination requirements for jobs and schools: You can drink all you want, but not if you get behind the wheel of a car. You can smoke all you want, but not in a public space. And you can remain unvaccinated – but you shouldn’t be able to do so while working in health care, or long-term care, or education, or higher education, or many other jobs.
Similarly, provincial governments should follow the lead of Seneca College, and order that students on campus at a university or college must be vaccinated. Extend that mandate to all students 12 years of age and older. For decades, vaccination against a host of diseases has been mandatory for children going to school in Ontario. Add COVID-19 to the list.
Keep the masks: Masking is the least intrusive public-health measure. It doesn’t involve stay-at-home orders, shuttered businesses or making anyone unemployed. It’s cost-free. And it works.
Telling people they must – must – wear a mask while they walk around the grocery aisle impinges on nobody’s freedom. Keep the masks until we know more about the course of Delta this fall. But if masks are merely a suggestion, they won’t work. On the road, stop signs are rule, not a personal choice.
Will the ditching of masks, already happening in much of the country – Ontario is the big exception – cost us? Maybe. Probably.
Much of what is known about COVID-19 is best expressed in probabilities. Vaccination doesn’t eliminate all possible negative outcomes, but it hugely reduces the odds. For example, the Florida Hospital Association says 96 per cent of its patients are unvaccinated.
Think of it like a game of blackjack. Being unvaccinated is like holding on a hand in the single digits. You might get lucky and win with that strategy, but you’re most likely to lose.
Being vaccinated, in contrast, is like dealing yourself a king and an ace. It’s not a guaranteed winning hand. But it’s as close as you can get.
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